Elevate Difference

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

When I attended a production of Jesus Christ Superstar as a wee lad of fifteen, I marveled at the song-writing, vocal skills, and daunting cross that loomed amidst a gloomy set design. Being then (and now) agnostic, I was appalled by the religious persecution depicted. I have always been puzzled by the penultimate utterance of Jesus. In the Book of Luke (King James version) 23:34, it is written, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” 

I can’t forgive the Christian patriarchy movement subjects of this superbly crafted and deeply troubling new book, for their bad faith, cognitive dissonance, and behavioral misdeeds carry heavy consequences. Whether or not they know what they’re doing remains an open question. Kathryn Joyce’s gripping new account, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, is about Christians who want literally to take over and remake the world by outbreeding everyone else, warping the minds of school-children, justifying bigotry with transparent illogic, and systematically denying civil rights. That most of the violence is committed quietly and privately against women and girls, most of whom accede to it with joy and penitence, will give even the most devoutly and egalitarian Christian reader pause. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Christian patriarchy movement members who feel imperiled by Jews, lesbians, Muslims, atheists, gay males, feminists, foreigners, and the less fecund seem conveniently to have forgotten these words.

The book’s twenty chapters are divided into three gendered parts—“Wives,” “Mothers,” and “Daughters”—in each of which Joyce deftly explores the bizarre ideology and political-economy of feminine subservience. The resulting dystopian communities in real-time and on-line in cyber-space rival those depicted in novels such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale, George Orwell’s 1984, and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can't Happen Here. This ain’t fiction, however. As befitting their understanding and practice of “complementarian theology,” as opposed to the alleged unnaturalness and godlessness of egalitarian gender relations, men and women in the Christian patriarchy movement believe equally (but differently) in the inherent inferiority of Eve (the Original Sin), females (on biological and spiritual grounds), Jezebel (in terms of sex) and women (who have hearts and minds). Sisters are in the process brainwashed into becoming meek and quiet supporters of their brothers, wives are instructed to remain sexually available to their husbands 24/7 (and forego any contraception), and mothers who don’t home-school their children commit them to Satan. Insofar as submissive females require degradation—the more public, the better—virtually every page is painful to read. 

Woe unto the woman who proclaims “domestic abuse” or reveals a less than godly husband. Quiverfull opens by recounting the attempted rehabilitation of the disgraced megachurch founder, Ted Haggard, whose initial denial and then avowal of his use of methamphetamine and male sex workers were ripe with possibility. “Complementarian” theology demands that it be not Haggard but Haggard’s wife, Gayle, who bears the brunt of Christian condemnation from low and high places.

Few books have so affected me. This is not the sledge-hammer account I might have written. With equal parts curiosity and compassion, Joyce explains how and why tens of thousands of American women have “chosen” forms of subservience that bankrupt and humiliate them, that crimp their mental development and that hurt them physically and lead sometimes to social leprosy. Each female interviewed firmly and confidently speaks her motivations and explains her anti-feminism while gleefully ignoring the Malthusian outcome of unfettered fertility.

My sole criticism is that Joyce praises the “openness, generosity, courage, and patience” of her key informants with whom she (sometimes, usually, inherently?) “sharply disagreed,” but without revealing any of those disagreements. Joyce’s secular feminist aesthetics and politics are “clear” enough in mind but not in body: how did she manage the flesh-crawling creepiness and awkward silences without every day saying “that’s obviously horseshit” or “I wouldn’t wish this lifestyle on the daughter of my worst enemy?”

That Quiverfull opens with Gayle Haggard’s exemplary case should rouse outside observers of this noxious fundamentalism not to sit on their hands. As she points out, “to follow these ideas to their conclusions can mean, in very real ways [as women], to disappear.”

Written by: Lawrence James Hammar, Ph.D., June 15th 2009

I just finished this book. It brought forth many difficult memories, as I am a Christian woman who was raised with the "headship" doctrine and in fact lived in a headship marriage.

Patriarchy is not a Christian lifestyle, particularly in the almost fetishistic way it is lived by the groups portrayed in the book. In fact, it is idolatrous in the way that these men place themselves as gods and demand submission from women.

That the patriarchy movement uses the name of Christ, but is not Christian, is evident in the way in which so much effort is put forth to force women and girls into subservient roles, while ignoring two crucial Christian concepts. These concepts are that submission of a woman within a relationship comes after the man has placed her and her needs first, sacrificing himself on her behalf as Christ did for us; further, Jesus' teaching that anyone wanting to be the leader must be the servant of all is completely ignored in the quest for male dominance and power.

It is difficult for anyone with even a minimum of human compassion for others to read this book without outrage; however, I would not judge Ms. Joyce too harshly in her decision to simply let members of these groups speak in their own words.

It their own words that illustrate the atmosphere of arrogant powermongering and organized oppression that lie at the heart of the Christian Patriarchy movement. Nothing more than an honest description and the chance for those involved to explain the movement in their own words is necessary, and no more powerful indictment is possible.

Haven't read the book, not planning to....but you should try and get to know a few QuiverFull families before blatantly judging them to be creepy and have bad faith. Some our WAY out there, but most are simply living quiet lives trying to do right by what they feel is Truth - God's Word.

You can't judge a movement, group or even an ideology (if that's what you would call us) by the extremes within said group.

Deb and Jennifer, thanks so much for your kind words and support. I wish I could have had you both there when I was writing the danged thing! This was a difficult book to read and review, for all the anger it depicted and roused in me. I appreciate your comments, and I wish you well in your indidividual journeys.

Actually Deb, Debi Pearl's a lot smarter than these morons. She may have misguided ideas about how women can cure abusive men, but neither she nor her husband believe that women can never have authority over men or that grown daughters should obey their parents. In fact, they wrote one of the best rebuttals of this sick lifestyle that I've ever seen.

Mr. Lawrence, YOU are a formidable and commendable, intelligent man. I agree with every single point you've made, including Joyce's remarkable and perhaps slightly unnecessary restraint from slamming these folks. Then again, it WAS necessary; by simply laying out the truth without insult, she's placed herself beyond reproach and criticism. So when little balless shrikes of men like Doug Phillips whine about her, his words are more pathetic than ever.

Again sir, you are BRILLIANT. As hard as it might be, please don't let your anger at these fools burn yourself out. There is a God and He sees all; the dangerous vicious wolves of the VF will pay for their crimes, I promise you.


I am so glad that you posted this. This is a particular book that I really want to read.

By the way, if you want to read something even more frightening, read anything by Debbi Pearl. She has some truely horrid advice on child rearing and wifely submission.

When I first became a Christian, my eagerness to follow my faith, made me begin reading some of these fundamentalist sites. Thank God that I am the type of person who asks questions and thinks for herself. I shudder to think that my independent daughters would have been brought up in this manner.